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February 5, 2012

Tip of the Week 

Insurance Against Mediocrity 

I'm Sorry

What it is?  A slightly ambiguous statement of:

  • Regret or sorrow
  • Defense or excuse
  • Inferior quality (a poor example of something)

Why It's Important:  Validates learning and human connections.  Acknowledging a mistake helps you learn what not to do next time.  Acknowledging the pain of another person validates his or her emotions—whether you or something else caused them.   

The Problem:  We’ve been conditioned to apologize when we’ve made a mistake.  That’s a great thing to do, however, when teaching how to apologize we tell kids to say “I’m sorry” and that’s a very hard thing to do!


The words “I'm sorry" sort of indicate that you think you are an inferior example of a person, that you should be pitied or looked down upon.  It feels like groveling. Think about the words in a literal sense:


“I” as in You in first person, your character. 


“Am” as in the way You are right now.  It means you are, at this moment, whatever the next word describes.


“Sorry” as in sad, pathetic, poor, unhappy, low, wrong.




Notice that the phrase “I’m sorry” describes the condition of the speaker at the moment he or she is speaking.


Okay, sure we can try telling our kids to be more descriptive, something like, “I’m sorry that I hit you.”  But still, if taken in a literal sense, a kid is saying that she is a sorry individual, right now, because she hit you.


Again, Yuck!


It’s no wonder “I’m sorry that I…” is quickly followed by a very defensive “but.”  “I’m sorry I hit you but …..”

  • YOU called me a name
  • YOU hit me first
  • YOU weren’t watching where you were going

The feelings caused by saying “I’m sorry” encourage justification.  It’s trying to find a really good reason to shift the blame so that the speaker doesn’t look/feel quite so pathetic.  We all know what happens next:  finger pointing, name calling, resentment, etc.  Nobody wins in the long run.


The Tip:    The 4 Step Apology Process

The apology process is a way to apologize without making the negative self-statement “I’m sorry.”


Step 1: Acknowledgement

“I acknowledge that I was wrong when I hit you.”


This is a factual statement about what you did.  It will defuse emotions on both sides:  You won’t feel the need to defend and they will find it harder to stay mad. 


Step 2: Apology

“I apologize for hurting you.”


It’s a positive statement that validates the other person’s pain.


Step 3: Amends

“What can I do to make amends?” 


It’s a proactive way to demonstrate your willingness to reduce their pain.


Step 4: Affirm

“Our friendship is important to me and I want to do everything I can to make sure we stay good friends.”


It’s a way to tie the whole thing together in the context of relationships rather than fault.


The 4 Step Apology Process is about owning your behavior not about being forgiven.  Remember, you can’t control the other person. 



Respect – By accepting responsibility for your own actions, you respect yourself.  By acknowledging the other person without strings, you respect the other person.


Learning – To learn from a mistake requires acknowledging having made one in the first place.  If you defend or justify you’re not learning from the mistake, in fact you’ll be finding reasons for repeating. Yikes!


Dignity – You separate an action you’ve mistakenly made from your character as an individual.


Bonding -- You demonstrate your empathy for the other person’s feelings:  their pain and their need for amends.


Empowerment -- It takes 15 positive statements to outweigh each negative statement.  The words you choose can either bolster confidence or undermine your belief in yourself.  Pay attention to what you say to yourself, intentionally or inadvertently.


Related Articles:  Good Cop / Bad Cop,  Ruffled Feathers, 


Related Tip of the Week:  Integrity,  Change,  Credibility, 


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